During the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) patriotic stationery—illustrated letterheads and envelopes—was widely used, particularly for letters to and from the battlefront. These envelopes are known to collectors as “patriotic covers.” However, the first picture-backed government-issued postal cards were produced in Austria-Hungary, and the images depicted the Franco-Prussian War. Nearly three million of these cards sold in 1870.

The popularity of postcards began to decline during World War I. At the time, many American companies had designed their own postcards, but they had been shipped to Germany or Austria for high-quality and low-cost printing. Even English publishers, like Raphael Tuck and Sons, had their cards printed in Germany or Austria. Thus the Great War, beginning in 1914, disrupted the production of cards. Plus, the somber mood created by the conflict made postcards seem like disrespectful frivolities. In 1918, the postage rates for postcards doubled, and after the war, telephones became the preferred means for staying in touch.

Even so, U.S. manufacturers began to produce their own cards around 1915. These were much lower in quality, as lush lithography was replaced by half-tone process printing, and they generally had a white border. But the war was a compelling reason to send postcards across the Atlantic in both directions, as soldiers and their loved ones exchanged updates via post. Wartime postcards most often depicted military leaders, officers, and soldiers, as well as explosions and bombed-out buildings.

In Europe, the war was all-consuming, resulting in a plethora of propaganda postcards which solidified the divide between “us” and “them” on both sides. “Positive” propaganda cards rallied both the Allies and Central Powers to fight “For King and Country.” On the other hand, “negative” propaganda cards were designed to ridicule and belittle enemies.

Central Powers postcards asserted the superiority of German people and technology and the inferiority of the Allies. In such comic cards, the Allies would be subjected to a demeaning type of punishment reserved for children or dogs. Even the German mythological figure Michel, who represents the laid-back and gentle side of the national character, was depicted as an aggressor. The Allies would often be portrayed as animals that did not deserve human respect.

Some of the most powerful anti-German propaganda postcard sets were produced by Italian postcard artist Tito Corbell, who made an important series of cards telling the story of nurse Edith Cavell, who was killed by German soldiers. Collectors, however, tend to favor Corbell’s more lighthearted work, like his images of glamorous women.

In England, the Bamforth publishing company, known for its mildly risqué “seaside” cards, produced many mocking and emasculating cards against the Germans. British historian G.M...

The most beautiful cards made during World War I are known as “silks.” French and Belgian refugee women would embroider designs on silk—usually incorporating British, French, and American flags—and ship them to factories to be trimmed and mounted onto postcard backs. These were tremendously popular with American and British soldiers stationed in France; it’s estimated that more than 10 million were produced before they died out in 1923.

Some of these postcards had flaps so that a tiny printed greeting card could be slipped between the silk and backboard. Generally they lack postage stamps because they were sent in Military Mail pouches at no charge to the soldier.

Silks were different from “linens,” a new kind of postcard that emerged post-World War I, made from an uncoated card stock that had a fabric-like texture and tended to feature garish colors. During World War II, as in the first world war, servicemen could send postcards home for free. Postcards became an important and easy means for soldiers to connect with their families, wives, and girlfriends back home, a quick way to let them know, “I’m still alive and thinking about you.”

Naturally, postcards were used for propaganda during World War II. Many of these propaganda postcards were relatively innocuous, sent within the U.S. and to and from soldiers, cheerleading the war effort. Evidence also suggests, though, that “black” propaganda postcards were used by the U.S. as a part of psychological warfare.

The Office of Strategic Services put out postcards that appeared to be German in origin, using real German postcard images and German wording that opposed Hitler and the Nazi Party, intended to suggest there was a strong anti-Fascist underground movement. Documentation indicates these cards were printed at a press taken over by the Morale Operation department of the OSS. As these cards were likely destroyed by the Nazis, they are extremely rare; only a few examples are known to exist today.

But for loved ones back home in America, the most popular kinds of cards to send to the boys overseas are what are known as “arcade postcards” or “girlie cards.” Based on the pin-ups of Gil Elvgren, Earl Moran, George Petty, Alberto Vargas, and others, these images of sexy ladies were meant to cheer up and provide a well-earned diversion to war-weary soldiers.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This resource for historic arms and armour collectors provides exhaustive information on modern reproductions (cust… [read review or visit site]



Andreas Praefcke's postcard collection of theatres and concert halls worldwide. Showcases 3700 images of over 1810 … [read review or visit site]

The Civil War

The Civil War

Paul McWhorter’s amazing reference site tells the story of the Civil War through high resolution scans of Harpers… [read review or visit site]

Tall Tale Postcards

Tall Tale Postcards

Don't let this one get away from you. This 'unbelievable' collection, from the Wisconsin Historical Society, featur… [read review or visit site]

Mikes Tanks

Mikes Tanks

Mike Seeber’s extensive collection of over 500 diecast tanks and military vehicles, dating back to WWII. Browse b… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rppc Prince Ito's Funeral & 3 Antique Japanese Tinted Postcard Albums Pre Wwi. Real Photo Postcard - Norfolk Regiment Soldiers & Recruits Marching NorwichLeesburg Va-balls Bluff Civil War Battlefield-virginia-1905-loudoun County China Russia Japan War Korea Map Russian Bear Japanese Geisha Postcard 1904 - 42China Russia Japan War Map Of Korea China & Japan John Walker Postcard 1904 - 43China Russia Japan War Map Of Korea China & Japan Raphael Tuck Postcard 1904 -44China Russia Japan War Port Arthur Surrender Real Photo Postcard 01/01/1905 - 33Western Military Academy Ashtray--alton, IllinoisChina Russia Japan War Vladivostok Frozen Warships Postcard 1904 - 32B5327 Uss Arizona Navy Battleship Leaving Harbor Antique Postcard Mitchell #4310Patriotic Usa Wwi Nurse & Flag - Studio Rppc Real Photo PostcardIllustrated Girl, Jennie Wade House Gettysburg Pa Battlefield Civil War PostcardSalonique1907 Zeibeks Zubechs Ottoman Irregular Militia War Salonica TurkeyHonolulu, Hi, Hawaii, Us Navy Search For Submarine F-4, Lost Mar 25, 1915, RppcChina Russia Japan War Russo-japanese Peace Conference Burying Dead Pc 1904 - 35Postcard Jordisons Penrith Photographers In Action Army Camp? Cycling R.p. C1910Imperial German Navy Real Photo. Sms "hindenburg" Battlecruiser. Scapa Flow 1917China Russia Japan War Japanese General Weeps Looking At Wounded Pc 1904 - 40Hms "scarab" Insect-class River Gunboat, Royal Navy. China Station, C1946 RpRedcar Camp, Band Of The 4th West Riding Howitzer Brigade Military Pc (d626)Bc - Victoria, Willow Park, “c” Squadron, 2nd Cmr (bc Horse), Trio C.1915 RppcWw1 German Airplane With Gunner, Pilots And Officers Real Photo PostcardChariton Ia Iowa - Camp Lincoln - Rapid Fire Machine Gun - 1909 Rppc Postcard100+ Lot Of Early 1900's Postcards Battleships Soldiers Some Funny. Most UnusedVintage Rppc Photo Postcard Mexican Revolution Border War Dead Nogales Az BodiesWw2 Nazi Postcard Used Third Reich Wwii 1930's Color Germany Nice ConditionChina Russia Japan War Japanese General Smiles Russians Weeps Postcard 1904 - 411933 Postcard Of Adolf Hitler ~ January 30, 1933China Russia Japan War Sailor Gloats As Russian Fleet Sinks Raphael Tuck Pc 53Bermuda - St Georges Military Hospital & Cricket Field - Pub O Clifford 14511Original Ww2 German Army "merry Xmas" Card; Eastern Front; "happy New Year", S6Military Postcard Dead Civil War Soldiers Battle Of Gettysburg Battlefield Penn.Printed Postcard 7733 Divided Back Unposted Revenue Cutter Winona Gulfport Miss1909 Photo Postcard Interior Jeanerette Hardware Co Ltd. Store Jeanerette La Cats Meow Village Annapolis Naval Academy Navy Mahan Hall '94 Htf Piece(16) Cuba Wwi Camp Meyer Guantanamo Bay Real Photo Post Cards1909 Puerto Rico Postcard Military Road Near San Juan Porto Rico16 Soldier Postcards Army Infantry Uncle Sam War Humor Propaganda Artist SignedWas - Wa - Gun Cottage Colony Torch Lake Mich Mi Michigan PostcardTianjin China - Independence Rally - Tientsin Marines - Usmc Wwii Ww2 PhotoChina Russia Japan War Model Boating Pond 'what A Surprise' Dudley Hardy Pc 51China Russia Japan War Port Arthur's Heavy Artillery Artist Postcard 1904 - 15East Cavalry Field Gettysburg Battlefield Pa Adams County Civil War PostcardAxis Series Wwii Postcard #60 - Signed B.f.long - Hitler, Mussolini, HirohitoFairfax Court House Va-gunnell House-confederate Mosby-civil War-virginiaChina Russia Japan War Japanese Troops Blown Away By Bomb Lion Postcard 50Bc - Esquimalt Harbour, Admirals’ Launch, William Oswald Story C.1917 RppcOriginal Ww2 German Army "merry Xmas" Card; Norway 1943-4; "happy New Year", S6Entrance Gate, Castle Air Force Base, Ca Rppc 1965Army Artillery Passing In Review, Wwi Fort Ord Ca PostcardPhoto Pc Of Submarine Salvage, 1915 Kodagraph Honolulu,unused, UnpostedH.h. Stratton Postcard Mexican Revolution Border War Troops Soldiers Military Pc1931 Camp Grant Ambulances & Horse Buggies 33rd Division National Guard PostcardAntique Wwi American Tank In Action Chicago Daily News War Postcard1¢ Wonders ~ Unused Souvenir Folder W/ "u.s.s. Arizona Memorial" ~ #pf35B5339 Field Kitchen Military Activity 1 Of 20 Designs Linen Pc Tichnor # 74205Old 1940 S B/w Military NegativesMilitary Christmas Tree, Flags, Ammunition 1918-20 World War I Interior RppcVintage Rare Souvenir Of Camp Wadsworth Spartanburg ,s.c. Book Military Rare Vintage Fs Fred Stone Pull Out Comic Postcard 1908 Army & Bathing Beauty